20 August 2017

New Zealand School of Export Graduate - Ian Walton - ATRAX Group NZ

Ian web.jpgIan Walton is Vice President of Aviation and Logistics at Auckland based ATRAX Group NZ Ltd, the world leader in the Design, Manufacture, Integration and Support of Industrial Weighing, Measurement, and Control systems for the Airport and Logistics industries.

Ian fell into international trade during his “Big OE” in the UK when he worked for oil and gas giant Halliburton as internal sales support.  An international position became available and soon Ian was in charge of a sales area that included Eastern Europe, CIS and the Middle East. 

Although well-travelled, Ian still felt the impact of cultural differences: "The Russians were extremely educated but totally theoretical - knew how to design it, knew how to build it, but didn’t know how to kick it to make it work."

Twenty years on, Ian evidently made the right move.  At ATRAX, a 100% export company, Ian has total global responsibility for sales through agents and direct to customers and spends at least 35% of his time overseas each year. 

So what is it about working internationally that gives Ian such a buzz? 

"The travelling,  even after all this time.  If you time it right, you can avoid a lot of the winter and most people are great, they love New Zealanders because we are perceived to be different from Americans and Europeans."

And the downside?  

Time away from the family, but when I’m home, most of my work is done by phone or email, and how many Dads can take a week off if they need to spend time with their kids and mates getting mucky in the bush somewhere  You just need to prioritise and make sure you’re home for birthdays, school-camps, prize-giving’s and such.  During my children’s time at school, I’ve been on every school camp.

Ian sees the scarcity of qualified staff in NZ as the greatest challenge facing a company like ATRAX, and the lack of good quality sub-suppliers with an international mind-set.  He regrets not taking a degree straight from school, and gets frustrated by the pre-requisite tertiary education for senior posts, believing that real-life experience is more important. 

Studying for The Diploma of International Trade

Things changed when Ian enrolled in the Diploma of International Trade - juggling his assessments with a punishing schedule which has him travelling to export markets all over the world.

In 2009, Ian achieved a double success, arriving at the New Zealand School of Export to be presented with his Diploma of International Trade, only to find he had also been awarded the School’s ‘2009 Distinguished Exporter’ Award.

New Zealand School of Export Director Dr Romuald Rudzki says: "Atrax is a wonderful example of a New Zealand company with world-class products in over 90 markets and Ian has been responsible for continuing to grow Atrax’s sales internationally.  His ability, professionalism and knowledge gained from many years on the road are second to none – that is why he truly deserved the 2009 Distinguished Exporter award’".

Ian's advice

Ian, who follows in the footsteps of 2008 winner Trevor Millar of Cowell’s Pavlova Kitchen, says: “The Distinguished Exporter Award was just the icing on the cake after 2 years of study towards the Diploma. The level of support from the School of Export was of a very high standard and I would recommend this course to any company already in the export field or contemplating entering this highly competitive arena”.

Ian’s advice to people starting out in export, is to get help from NZTE to check that you are ‘export ready’ and form an association with an existing exporter. Then “do a sales plan based on highest projected costs, worst possible exchange rate and see if you can still compete.  I have seen many companies struggling recently with steel prices going up and the USD going to 80c, suddenly they were not cost competitive and had no Plan B.”

Skills and knowledge are also of huge importance.  Ian believes good communication to be his greatest asset and as a useful reminder that we are blessed with two ears and only one mouth—”I have seen people who are far better salesmen than myself give perfect presentations, but they did not listen to the feedback.”

General knowledge of the world, its peoples and customs are also important, “read the international sections in papers and publications and when you travel, mix with the locals”. Of course the ability to travel successfully is an added advantage: “People not in the industry still tell me it must be great flying first class and staying in 5 star hotels ... I wish ... they should do a two week trip to Kazakhstan.”

In terms of government assistance, ATRAX has received limited funding for new market ventures but as Ian says, when it comes to boosting exports “We have to be in a position that we would do it anyway; if government money is that important to you, you should not be in the business.” 

And finally, ”New Zealand is a great country for designing and building high-tech niche equipment.  Loads of companies can do it, but not many can market them internationally. Therefore, the technology is sold to an offshore company for a small percentage of its true value.”

Ian was interviewed in 2009.  Since then he has moved to DSH Systems in Napier as their Commercial Sales Manager.

Page last updated 8 November, 2010

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